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Will Maryland try to ban alcohol next?

By Trevor Bothwell
web posted December 3, 2007

It looks like Maryland neo-prohibitionists are on the march again. Apparently not content with a statewide smoking ban that will go into effect next February, at least one lawmaker is now preparing to wage an assault on our beer and wine too. Or more specifically, on how we can acquire it: Charles County Commissioners President Wayne Cooper has drafted legislation proposing a ban on drive-up windows at liquor stores.

"When I first moved here," Cooper said in a recent Washington Post interview, "a lot of our bars were topless and massage parlors were everywhere, and I saw these drive-through liquor stores, and I thought, ‘Wow, what kind of county have I moved to?'…It certainly portrays a negative image of Charles County."

Wow, indeed. While I believe the government has no moral right to prohibit the consumption of adult pornography and prostitution, I guess I've just never placed those things in the same category as alcohol.

Though Cooper claims to appreciate the service drive-through liquor stores provide, his problem seems to be that "We're telling people not to drink and drive, but we're making it convenient to do so."

Actually, cars -- not politicians -- make it convenient to drink and drive, but I digress. Maybe this is an appropriate time to point out that politicians shouldn't be telling us not to drink and drive in the first place; that the state should not be using alcohol as an excuse to confiscate our property in order to finance nefarious sobriety checkpoints, where government agents round up and harass motorists collectively simply because they have the potential to be driving under the influence. You know our civil liberties are in jeopardy when merely moving about qualifies as probable cause these days.

Because I assume Mr. Cooper is intelligent enough to realize there's no meaningful difference between walking into a liquor store and driving up to a window to purchase alcohol, I suspect he's actually more concerned about asserting his influence to grant political favors (to windowless liquor store owners, perhaps?) than making us get out of our cars to buy booze. Either that or he's seeking to use his office to impose some personal opposition to alcohol on everyone else.

Regardless, if Mr. Cooper truly can't stand the "image" being generated by certain business dealings occurring among the many peaceful, consenting, tax-paying adults of Charles County, he is free to leave it. What he does not have moral license to do is employ the coercive power of government to prevent liquor store owners from providing a service harming no one.

Moreover, because Charles County operates under what is called Code Home Rule, Cooper's bill will require approval from the Maryland General Assembly should his commissioner colleagues vote unanimously to approve it. This means that the bill potentially holds more far-reaching implications than might otherwise be assumed on the surface, as the need for state endorsement necessarily increases the risk that, if passed, the ban would be imposed throughout Maryland instead of on a single county -- effectively usurping the freedom of all Maryland residents to move to a more liquor-friendly district within the state.

After all, if a team of county commissioners can obtain enough votes from state representatives to pass an injunction that originated at the local level, why wouldn't state lawmakers simply turn right around and apply that very ban statewide knowing they have the requisite legislative support? This is a stark illustration of how local laws have the potential to morph from relatively benign irritants to full-blown demoralizing diktats, the effects from which the oppressed cannot escape unless they leave the state or country.

Given that trying to ban the act of handing someone a bottle of bourbon through a window is about as dumb as trying to ban a fast-food clerk from doing the same thing with a hamburger, I'm compelled to ask: How long before Maryland legislators attempt to ban liquor sales entirely?

I can't imagine that Wayne Cooper actually believes the means by which one acquires alcohol has any bearing whatever on whether one will decide to consume it during transportation. But whatever his reasons, if Cooper successfully lobbies Maryland lawmakers to enact this ridiculous drive-through ban, you can rest assured it will lay the groundwork for further state aggression against freedom of contract in general, and against our freedom to enjoy an alcoholic beverage in particular.

Finally, it bears noting that politicians would be impotent without a state-sanctioned police force, dispatched gun in hand to all too willingly enforce this type of tyrannical legislation. Capt. Michael McGuigan, commander of the special operations division for the Charles County Sheriff's Office, has remarked, "It makes sense that people in cars should not have access to liquor while operating their cars, but not everybody is breaking the law."

No, just those reckless sorts who drive around with a case of beer in the back seat, right Capt. McGuigan?

Despite the contentions of our many rulers, it never "makes sense" in a free country to operate from the premise that we're all criminals, guilty until proven innocent. ESR

Trevor Bothwell maintains the web log, Who's Your Nanny? Contact him at bothwelltj@yahoo.com.


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